Standing in our backyard one morning, my significant other and I were discussing a greenhouse when, from behind us, there was a crack, a *whoosh*, and a bark. Our neighbor's Golden Retriever came bounding into our yard to play with our young pit bull. Needless to say, we were surprised. But the Golden soon realized he had probably pressed his luck too far and returned to his home yard as we called our neighbor to let him know that one of the warped boards had finally failed. Luckily for us, we have a good relationship with our neighbor, his dog, and the hammer required to tack an old board back into place.
If only it were that easy with every boundary. I frequently discuss the topic of boundaries with clients because, as much as they benefit us and our needs, they're also good for others. Boundaries are an important part of your own self-esteem and physical limitations, creating that precious space for your needs to be met. They give those around you information about how you prefer to interact. They show your self-respect and the respect your require from others.
But the boundaries around interacting with others are not wood fences. They are more like rivers, fluid and potentially temperamental depending on the climate. The secret to keeping good boundaries is agreeing about what is happening, what you'd would like to see happen in the future, and what happens if it doesn't. These are the three steps to successfully setting healthy boundaries.
1. Level Set
The first part of setting good boundaries is making sure you and the person you’re talking to are on the same page and agree about what is going on. Are you surprised that false attribution and incorrect assumptions create confusion? The first step to setting boundaries is getting on the same page.
Make sure to know and explain how you see the situation. Be brief, but comprehensive. Then let the other person do the same. Listen carefully. If you hear any discrepancies between the two explanations, you must reconcile them before you move forward.
You must both agree on what the situation actually is before moving to Step 2.
2. Expectation Set
Now that you both agree on where you are, you must have an idea of where you want to go. Think particularly about goals that are win/win. Explain your goals clearly. If there are specific steps you want the other person to participate in, explain those. If you have expectations of how the goals are to be met, explain those too.
Once you have clearly explain your goals and expectations to the other person, give them a chance to respond. Let them tell you if any part of your goals and expectations is unreasonable. Let them add to the goals and expectations. The idea is to co-create a path to the goal.
You must both agree on the goals and expectations before you can move to Step 3.
3. Consequence Set
When you have successfully reached a mutual understanding about what is actually happening and what you would like to have happen, you can work on setting consequences for not meeting expectations. Consequences MUST be:
Proportional so that the consequences for not meeting expectations is proportional to the expectations set. This process does not work if every consequence is being fired. Immediate means that potentially negative consequences must take place in a timely manner. Valuable means there must be some value in the consequence. I once heard a story about young Marines being made to sweep courtyards in the rain as punishment. I can't imagine why that energy wouldn't be put towards something productive.
Using this process, you work with your neighbor to co-create productive boundaries and clear expectations in any situation.
**Erika Weed is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University, studying leadership and trying to reconcile the seemingly competing goals of happiness and success, for herself and others. She has a B.S. in Communications from Winthrop University, and MBA from Queens University of Charlotte, and has been an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant for the last 10 years. Erika founded Ascendry in 2015.